If you read my latest travel diary, then you will know that recently Luang Prabang well and truly stole my heart. Nestled at the sacred crossing between the Mekong and the Kham Khan rivers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is rich in culture, history and of course, delicious food. But don’t allow the slow pace of Luang Prabang to fool you – this sleepy riverside city has so much to offer. Here is a guide of the top things to do in Luang Prabang…
TOP THINGS TO DO IN LUANG PRABANG
TEMPLE HOP ‘TIL YOU LITERALLY… DROP
It goes without saying that fervent Buddhism is the pulse of Luang Prabang. Home to 33 gilded wats, temples are scattered across the city and are best explored by bicycle. With their sweeping roofs, glittering mosaics and gold-cast statues, you can easily lose hours to temple hopping. Fortunately, smiling monks still manage to outnumber the tourists, and often they will invite you to come and chat. Be sure to visit Wat Xieng Thong for the infamous “Tree of Life” mosaic and Wat Aham, another one of my favourites.
Photo Credit: Wander Lust Lens
EXPLORE THE NIGHT MARKET
The perfect way to end the day in Luang Prabang is to scavenge through the vibrant and bustling night market. Dozens and dozens of stalls line the main street where vendors come to sell home-made shawls, items crafted from exploded bombs and of course, elephant pants! Unlike many other South-East Asian destinations, you can pass through the stalls here hassle-free and get a great price.
Photo Credit: Vie Travel Asia
WATCH THE MORNING ALMS
The Morning Alms is an unmissable experience in Luang Prabang. At dawn, the locals line up with sticky rice and give offerings to the young monks who are embarking on their spiritual journeys. The best way to watch is to stand on the other side of the street, quietly, and be sure to switch off your flash. Sadly, badly behaved tourists have caused a lot of controversy for walking right up to the monks and getting in the way. Don’t be one of them!
GO TO A LAOTION HERBAL SAUNA (AND TRY NOT TO PASS OUT)
One of our favourite experiences was trying out the local herbal sauna. A Red Cross initiative, the sauna is extremely popular with the locals and is definitely a must-try experience. We were handed our sarongs and ushered into to an open room which had two doors leading to separate gender saunas. If you’ve ever seen Matilda, the saunas were essentially the “Chokey”, minus the nails, of course. Pitch black, smoky, and extremely hot, the sauna is filled with the aroma of pungent herbs and at times is intense to inhale. My boyfriend and I managed to stay in there for 1 minute at a time as it was so unbelievably hot! We took breaks to sip on herbal tea before bracing it again. The locals firmly believe that these saunas are beneficial for your health and that it’s good to leave the herbal residue on your skin for a few hours. At just 15,000 kip ($1.50), it’s great value, but you will definitely need to leave any western spa standards behind.
HANG OUT AT UTOPIA
Utopia is a hippie haven that gazes over the Mekong river. This is the perfect place to hang out, grab a mango juice and watch the world go by. They even do sunrise and sunset yoga – amazing, right?!
TAKE A BOAT TO THE PAK OU CAVES
The Pak Ou Caves are an ancient Buddhist site hidden away in the limestone rock that hugs the Mekong River. There are two caves, one that takes a couple of hundred steps to reach where you examine the 400 year old statues by torchlight, and another, where a shrine sits beneath the ominous glare of stalactites. This was once a place where people visited on pilgrimages and left statues behind as offerings to Buddha and the river spirit. It’ll take a two hour boat trip down the Mekong River, but the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Luang Prabang will make it worth it. Gaze out at the buffalo nesting on the viridescent countryside and fishermen hauling in their nets for a brief insight into Laoation life.
Photo Credit: Explore Laos
CHASE WATERFALLS AT KUANG SI
The Kuang Si Waterfalls firmly hold the #1 spot for Luang Prabang’s top tourist spot, and it’s easy to see why. There are several stages to explore before the lead up to a huge, azure blue waterfall. If you’re up for braving a climb, then follow the trail up to the hidden jungle rockpool. It has beautiful views but is definitely an intense scramble! Pro tip: we stupidly arrived late in the afternoon and by then it was full of people. The best time to go is as early in the morning as possible!
CROSS THE BAMBOO BRIDGE
The rickety, rackety bamboo bridge only stands for half of the year before rainy season kicks in, and so it will cost you a few kip to cross. We didn’t do much exploring of the other side of the river but apparently there are some cool temples to explore. Oh, and if you’re looking for a dinner spot, be sure to try out Pizza Phan (more info in my blog post here).
Photo Credit: Thornberry
GIVE BACK! GET A BLIND MASSAGE OR VOLUNTEER AT BIG BROTHER MOUSE
There are plenty of ways to give back when travelling, and if we have time, we do our best to seek out opportunities to give back. Big Brother Mouse was an amazing way to do this, they run drop in sessions daily where you can go and chat to locals in English. It was bustling with travellers and locals and is clearly a huge part of the community. I chatted to a boy about his life growing up in a tribe in the countryside and he told me all about their beliefs, cultures and customs. For a unique massage experience, try Souvanh, a centre run by the Laos Association of the Blind. At about £5 for an hour, my masseuse well and truly cracked every bone in my body and it was one of the best massages we’d ever experienced.
HIKE MOUNT PHOUSI
Okay… So this is definitely more of a climb than a “hike”, but Mount Phousi is definitely worth doing! It will take you around 300 steps to reach the viewing point from where you will be able to see beautiful, panoramic views of Luang Prabang. Either go early in the morning to avoid the heat or at dusk for stunning indigo sunsets.
My Other Posts on Luang Prabang
Have you ever been to Luang Prabang before? Where is your favourite place in South East Asia?